With everything that’s gone wrong for the Niners during the off-season, the last thing they needed was to lose the heart of their defense. Monday, that’s what happened.
Justin Smith, a 14-year veteran who spent the last seven years of his career in a crimson-and-gold uni, announced his retirement from the game. “Cowboy”, as his teammates called him, was quite literally the heart and soul of the Niners’ D. The five-time Pro Bowler leaves a huge vacancy that will be impossible to fill for this season and perhaps several seasons to come.
Smith is just the latest in a series of losses on the defensive side of the ball that the Niners have suffered in recent months. They’ve also said good-bye to Patrick Willis and second-year man Chris Borland.
As Sacramento Bee Niners’ beat reporter Matt Barrows said, “Smith’s retirement means that only three 49ers who started on defense in the Super Bowl just two and a half years ago remain with the team. They are Ahmad Brooks, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. Five members of the team’s Super Bowl starting offense remain: Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Vernon Davis, Colin Kaepernick and Joe Staley.”
They’ve also lost three other defensive starters in the off-season to free agency: corners Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver and linebacker Dan Skuta.
That means over half of the starting defense from 2014 is no longer on the roster.
That combined with the highly questionable decision to switch head coaches to the unproven puppet manager Jim Tomsula all adds up to a 2015 season whose prospects for the Niners are, at best, mediocre.
Every team goes through this cycles. If Jim Harbaugh were still here, I’d be confident he could build a contender out of the scraps and draft choices and free agent pickups. Maybe Tomsula will surprise me.
But I’m not holding my breath.